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Full Circle: Childhood Friendships And The Barn That Built Them

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290 – July/August, 2023

By Minae Kroeze

For some it might seem like déjà vu when they spot a little girl in a vibrant purple outfit on a stout, talented gray horse. Both dressed in purple nearly three decades ago, Melissa Wolf (now Melissa Bercaw) and Brynne Bassler had great success on the horse “The Gray Hustler.” He was one of three horses that connected them–in more than one way–throughout their Youth careers, and now into adulthood.

Now–in a full circle moment–Melissa’s daughter, Ella Mae Bercaw, is a vision in purple with her new partner, Lazy Lopin Ranger, who, as could have been predicted, is also gray.

A Shared Love–or Three

Many friendships start in a barn over a shared love of horses and the unspoken sacrifice of what it takes to be a barn kid. For Melissa, horses ran deep in her blood from the beginning. With her father being an equine veterinarian and her mother a riding instructor, Melissa could often be found at Kensington Riding Center, located in Indiana and owned by the head trainer of the facility, Leanne Miller Stephens. It is there where Melissa met Brynne whose aunt, Hope Horall (now Hope Simms), happened to be the assistant trainer at Kensington. Both Melissa and Brynne learned to ride at the facility and quickly became top competitors on the AQHA circuit.

“Some of my best memories were growing up at Kensington Riding Center with friends like Melissa,” Brynne says, adding that as a child Melissa was the type of competitor any youth dreamed to be as she had great success at the National level.

“I had my first big win in the 12-14 Horsemanship at the 1992 Congress with The Gray Hustler, coming in Reserve Champion, as well as Top Ten in the 12-14 Equitation,” Melissa says. And just a few years later, after turning the reins over to her friend, The Gray Hustler and Brynne shared similar success as Reserve Congress Champions in the 11 & Under Horsemanship in 1996.

That same year, Melissa showed a horse that went on to become a familiar name to many. Motion By Pro and Melissa won the 1996 AQHA Reserve All-Around Youth title. The team won the High Point Western Pleasure Year-End Award for both AQHA and NSBA.

Click here to read the complete article
290 – July/August, 2023

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